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How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion When he was a Little Boy is an Asterix spin-off story by René Goscinny and was first published in Pilote magazine in 1969. The story was mostly text with only a few illustrations but in 1989 the Asterix illustrator Albert Uderzo (who now produced the Asterix books alone since the death of Goscinny in the late seventies) added some more illustrations and a new cover and published it as a stand alone Asterix album. Obelix of course is the portly boar munching best friend of our hero Asterix. While the Gauls in Asterix defy Roman rule by drinking the magic potion brewed by their druid Getafix and gaining temporary super strength, Obelix has super strength all the time because - as we are constantly told throughout the Asterix books - he fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby. Having been constantly told this it's slightly surprising here then to have the event occur when Asterix and Obelix are six (and therefore somewhat contradict the continuity of the series). I suppose it wouldn't have been much of a story if Asterix and Obelix were babies though and the change is essentially to allow the adult Asterix to narrate the story and also to allow us to see and hear about Asterix and Obelix as children at school. This is really a book for children or Asterix completists and has a much gentler and more child friendly feel than your usual Asterix volume. You should also be warned that it's much shorter too at about 30 pages and not really a graphic novel although there are some illustrations. It's a nice book but I think Uderzo was maybe pushing it a bit by putting it out as a stand alone volume.
In 2003 he actually put out an Asterix compilation of sort stories and oddities from Pilote magazine entitled Asterix and the Class Act. This had various short vignettes like Obelix having to go back to school, an account of the birth of Asterix, Asterix and Obelix helping Lutetia (ancient Paris) win the chance to host the ancient Olympic Games, Asterix helping a tiny anthropomorphic personification of Spring overcome Winter, and so on. How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion When he was a Little Boy could easily have been put into that compilation I feel rather than been published as a book in its own right. The actual story here seems slightly revisionist but it is quite nice. The twist is that Obelix was bullied when he was a boy and it was then that gave him the idea of sneaking a bit of the magic potion in the first place. What is enjoyable is the way we see some of his future character traits become established for the first time. His dislike of being called fat (!) and also we see the origin of his penchant for collecting the helmets of Roman legionaries after he has bashed them up. This is something that his father Obliscoidix liked to do too so was obviously something of a family tradition. I think this is the first time we glimpse the parents of Asterix and Obelix but I'm not completely sure. Plus of course the famous banquet under star strewn skies that always ends the traditional Asterix volumes. It's fun too to get a look at some of the other characters in their younger days. Vitalstatistix is still the chief of the village here but he's much thinner!
The principle reason to buy the book is a chance to see the beautiful watercolour illustrations that Uderzo has added to the text with this celebration of the 20th anniversary of the album's first publication. It begins with a wonderful new cover that highlights one of Uderzo's greatest strengths as the Asterix artist. His cosy interiors with stone walls and firelit rooms. The young Asterix and Obelix are wonderfully drawn too, retaining all of their character and personality in these pint sized incarnations. The back cover is equally impressive and has Obelix as a boy carving on one of his beloved menhirs. He will of course go to become a menhir delivery salesman as an adult and this is a joke of course because no one actually knows what menhirs are for or what you are supposed to do with them although Obelix always seems to think they are much in demand and make great gifts. An illustration at the start of the parents of Asterix in the garden with him when he was a child is absolutely fantastic. The attention to detail is amazing right down to the thatched roof and the watercolours are perfect for the story because they add a sort of dreamy golden haze and sense of nostalgia that is very fitting for the nature of the story because we taking a misty eyed trip back through time.
Cacofonix the bard makes an early appearance too and although Obelix won't get his beloved pooch Dogmatix until he is an adult the famous canine is anticipated here in a slightly strange fashion. I love by the way the open air classroom of Getafix the druid as he teaches the children. Getafix looks exactly the same here with his wizard like appearance and big white beard so he has obviously always looked exactly the same! These illustrations are very enjoyable and superbly done. Perhaps the highlight of the book is a double page spread of the whole of the Gaul village. This is absolutely superb and very enjoyable to dwell on so you can pick up the little details. It reminded me somewhat of an Asterix pull out frieze I had growing up but the art here is much more sumptuous. I think younger children would certainly enjoy the art here. The text itself is simple but moves the story along and has some of the trademark Goscinny wit although you'll have a much better time with a traditional Asterix volume. There is none of the comic violence and ahistorical visual and verbal punditry here that you usually expect from the series. Ultimately, this is a book that you can read in about ten minutes and you do have to wonder if it shouldn't have been included with Asterix and the Class Act instead. This is definitely an Asterix book for completists more than casual fans. At the time of writing you can buy How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion When he was a Little Boy for around a fiver.
** Introduction **
As well as the standard cartoon albums, over the years there have been a number of Asterix books which have followed a slightly different path. We've had books of the films, adventure gamebooks and even one that opened out into a frieze to stick on your wall. However, here we have what might be called a "backstory" volume, and it has perhaps the longest title of the lot: in full, it is How Obelix Fell into the Magic Potion When He was a Little Boy - so for the purposes of this review, I'll abbreviate it to just the first three words!
How Obelix Fell... was published more than two decades ago now, and came out almost simultaneously in France and Britain in 1989. However, as you may guess from the fact that it's credited to René Goscinny (who died in 1977), the story itself is much older. Uderzo explains in his short introduction it dates back to 1965, when the Asterix strips themselves had been running for only around six years. (Next to the introduction is a rather amusing black and white photo of Goscinny and Uderzo dressed as indomitable Gauls!)
** Plot **
The book's title may be an unwieldy one, but you can't accuse it of failing to deliver. We're transported back in time to Asterix's childhood (he too is about six in the story) and after a brief bit of biographical background we're given our first shock: Obelix at that age was not at all the happy-go-lucky have-a-go hero he later becomes. In fact, he was "a bit soft". Hard to imagine, but there it is. And this leads to his being teased by his schoolmates, who include the likes of Cacofonix and Fulliautomatix. Vitalstatistix is already chief, but in keeping with Asterix canon is slim and athletic' Geriatrix, of course, looks just like he does today.
One other character who hasn't changed in appearance is the druid Getafix, presumably because he's been venerable pretty much from the moment he was born. He looks just like he does in the main series! As the teacher in the junior Gauls' open-air schoolroom ("Well, Obelix: Who is the Roman geezer?") he was the one with whom Obelix got into trouble for daydreaming. Mind you, he might more reasonably have disciplined him for having an enormously annoying "aren't I cute?" lithp, er, lisp...
The story progresses, albeit not at any great pace, and we do indeed discover exactly what led Obelix to fall into the druid's cauldron of magic potion and become permanently affected by it. After that? Simply "The end... or the beginning". Let's be honest here, this is a pretty slight tale, and if you bought it in anticipation of a rollicking, fun-packed adventure on the lines of most Asterix books you'd probably be quite disappointed. It's most definitely one for the aficionado, not the casual fan.
** Artwork and assessment **
What does make the book worthwhile is the artwork. This is done (by Uderzo, but with colouring by Thierry Mebarki) in a deliberately slightly faded manner, as if being told in a dream or through the haze of intervening years. The style is instantly recognisable as Uderzo's, but the full-page illustrations encourage a rather more expansive feel than is the case within the normal books' strip-cartoon format. The nostalgic, warm feel of the pictures works extremely well for the story being told.
After a few years out of print, How Obelix Fell... is now easily available new in both hardback and paperback editions; from Amazon the former costs £6.49 and the latter £7.19, which is a bit odd; given the choice I'd have the hardback anyway, so there seems no point in buying the softcover edition. I wouldn't recommend this book unless you're familiar enough with Asterix to recognise the characters even in their childhood forms, and even if you are it's a little expensive for what it is. Worth having, but not at any price; hence three stars.